Today is Primary Day in Kansas and Missouri and probably a few other states, too, but, I’m only interested in these two. I was Facebook chatting with a friend earlier. We were wondering if the turnout would be high or low and whether one would benefit our folks more or less. In the end, we just didn’t know.
It did remind me of the first time I voted. The time was 1956. Adlai Stevenson was running against Dwight Eisenhower. My folks lived in southern Illinois. My mother was a grade school teacher. My father was a coal miner and part-time farmer. A few years later when the near yearly strikes by the UMWA permanently closed most of the coal mines, he became a full time farmer.
Being a miner, he was a member of the UMWA, the United Mine Workers of America. Dad remained a member of the union after the mine, where he worked for thirty years, closed. He wanted to retain his pension and health benefits. If he didn’t continue to pay union dues, he would lose pension and benefits.
Elections in coal country were a bit different from other areas of the country. There were highly organized affairs with the unions firmly in control. On election day, each poll would have a collection of union officials outside. Every union had a representative at every polling station. When union members arrived to vote, they checked with their union representative who, in turn, checked their name off the union roster. Heaven help the union member who didn’t vote or check in with the union before voting. Fines up to $100 was not uncommon.
In Illinois at that time, schools and many businesses closed on election day. Mom and Grandma had voted earlier. Dad had some chores to do. He voted later and I, nine-years old, went with him.
We arrived at the polling station that was set up in the yard of the township headquarters in West City, IL. Dad was recognized by a number of other union members and waved over. The union rep at that polling place was a man whose name I’ve forgotten. I do remember Dad calling him a ‘loud-mouth.’
Dad checked in, had his name checked as voting on the union roster and was given a ballot with all the union-backed candidates already checked off. There were few, if any, items on the ballot unchecked. Dad introduced me to Loud-mouth. I remember he hollered, “Another UMWA vote here!” and pushed a ballot into my hands. He told me to follow my father and put the ballot into the same box as did my Dad. I looked at Dad. He looked down at me and gave a slight nod of his head.
A few steps away were the election judges, both union men. One took my ballot and Dad’s and stuffed them in the ballot box. The other had my Dad sign the voter roster. He asked my name and I gave it. The judge wrote it on the voter roster just below my Dad’s name.
I had just voted in my first election, at age nine. It was the union and Illinois way. In parts of the county today, I’m told the voting practices haven’t changed in the near-sixty years since I first voted.